For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Resolving the ‘jobs-environment-dilemma’? The case for critiques of work in sustainability research"

by Hoffmann, Maja; Paulsen, Roland (2020)


Modern-day work is a central reason for unsustainability, and its transformation is therefore key for sustainability. A recurring manifestation of this issue is the ‘jobs-environmentdilemma’, a trade-off arising due to severe ecological impacts caused by work on the one hand, and the structural constitution of modern industrial society as work-centred and workdependent on the other. We draw on interdisciplinary literature from environmental sociology and related fields to analyse both aspects: distinct factors of ecological problems associated with modern work, and various dimensions of structural dependence on work in modern society. We find that this conflict, and the fundamental role that work plays for unsustainability, are not sufficiently addressed and remain unresolved issues in sustainability research. To change this, we propose the conceptual approach of ‘postwork’ or critiques of work to open up a new perspective on the work-environment problem. We introduce postwork theory and discuss different ways in which ecological postwork perspectives and arguments can contribute to understanding and resolving entrenched sustainability issues. Finally, we briefly illustrate existing postwork politics and practices. While clearly contested, there is renewed momentum for social change towards a sustainable society which would benefit from addressing work and critiques of work.

Key Passage

impacts that work induces structurally, independently of the labour process itself. Work induced Mobility comprises phenomena such as commuter traffic or business travel; mobility that only exists because work necessitates it. Notably, it needs to be fast, i.e. energy intensive, owing to business-people's busyness and employees' time constraints (Feenberg 1999). Work induced Infrastructure includes built infrastructure such as office buildings, factories, warehouses and industrial estates, their water, power and hea ting/cooling supply, ancillary power plants, roads, tracks and parking sites, as well as technical and supportive service infrastructure. This infrastructure is built and maintained only for the purpose of allowing abstract workto 'take place', which is ecologically problematic due to its land, resource and energy consumption (Torisson 2017). Work-induced Consumption entails purchases of goods and services like work clothing, second cars, or daycare centres; consumption that would be needed considerably less if work was reduced. It also includes compensatory consumption to recompense for stressful, meaningless, alienating, or 'bullshit' work (Graeber 2018; Gronemeyer 2012). The additional employment generated for the provision of all these goods and services (Graeber 2018) may be described as work induced work, with all the ecologicalimpacts as described.” 2020, P. 345 ()


Sustainability, Sustainability Research, Jobs-Environment Dilemma, Environmentalism


Bullshit Jobs, Sustainibility, Ecology

Links to Reference



How to contribute.